- (Photo: Carroll County Times / Dylan Slagle, File)
A fundamentalist Kansas church notorious for protesting at the funerals of troops killed in Iraq was ordered Wednesday to pay $10.9 million in damages to the father of a fallen Marine.
The Westboro Baptist Church believes that U.S. deaths in the Iraq war are punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality and appeared last year at the funeral for Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, bearing signs that read: "Thank God for dead soldiers" and "God hates fags.
A nine-member federal jury found members and three leaders of Westboro Fred Phelps and his two daughters, Phelps-Roper and Rebekah Phelps-Davis guilty for invasion of privacy and causing emotional distress.
The jury told the church to pay $2.9 million in compensatory damages and $8 million in punitive damages to the Marines father, Albert Snyder.
Snyder sobbed when he heard the verdict.
Craig Trebilcock, one of Snyder's lawyers later called the verdict "Judgment Day for the Westboro Baptist Church, reported the Associated Press.
While it is still unclear whether Westboro can pay the fines, another of Snyder's lawyers, Sean Summers, said he would tirelessly seek payment of the award from what he called a 71-member cult.
Westboro Baptist, which is not affiliated with any Baptist denomination, holds an unorthodox view on predestination, the idea that God determined at the time of one's creation whether they were bound for heaven or hell.
While the belief, stemming from the teachings of John Calvin, is also taught in mainstream churches, members of Westboro Baptist particularly emphasize Gods hatred in spreading their message.
The members of the church, made up of mainly Pastor Fred Phelps and his relatives, also believe that they must alert the condemned of their fate even though such people have no chance of going to heaven. According to past media reports, the congregation prays that all of Gods chosen people will come to this church. When the last person comes, they believe, Christ will return and the world will end.
Given their background, it is not a surprise that most members of the church seemed pleased with the ruling. The Associated Press reported that they left the court room with tight-lipped smiles.
Rev. Phelps was confident an appeal would rule in their favor.
Oh, it will take about five minutes to get that thing reversed, he said.
Jonathan Phelps, son of Fred Phelps Sr, said the national media attention will just give church members another platform to preach their message.
We havent completed our testimony yet, Phelps said in a 49abcnews.com report. We have things to preach and we have things to tell.
Earlier this year the church outraged mourning Americans when it planned to picket memorial services of the tragic Virginia Tech shooting victims.
The obscene nature of its protests have led to 31 states in America to pass legislation banning protestors from attending military funerals.
The group has maintained that the Baltimore ruling Wednesday would not affect future protests at funerals.